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Cribbage is a game for two to four players; since Hoyle Card Games uses the two-player version, we’ll confine ourselves to that. The game uses the standard 52-card pack. The cards in each suit rank from the king (the highest) down to the ace (the lowest). In counting or numerical value, the king, queen, jack, and 10 each count for 10 (and so are called tenth cards), the ace counts as one, and the other cards are face value.

The game operates on the principle of matching combinations of cards: pairs, three or more of a kind, flushes, runs (sequences), and groups of cards that add up to 15. Players score points for matching both during and after play (after play, points are totaled for combinations in hand). The first person to score 121 points is the winner.

Cribbage also uses a “cribbage board,” a rectangular panel with rows of holes that form a sort of track. At one end, or in the center, you’ll find three additional holes, called game holes. Each player has two pegs, which are placed at the start in the game holes. After each hand, the player advances a peg an appropriate number of holes (one hole per point) away from the start (assuming that that player scored any points). The player’s second score is recorded by placing the second peg an appropriate distance ahead of the first. For each subsequent score, the peg in back jumps over the peg in front. The distance between the two pegs always shows the amount of the last score. This method holds math mistakes to a minimum.

Each player receives six cards, dealt one at a time. After looking over the hand, each player lays away two cards face-down. The four cards laid away, placed in one pile, form the crib. The crib, also called the kitty, counts for the dealer (the dealer always has an advantage in this game). The non-dealer therefore tries to lay away balking cards— cards that are least likely to create a score in the crib.

To begin play (called pegging), the dealer turns up the top card of the stock. This card is called one for the starter. If this card is a jack, the dealer immediately pegs two (advances his peg two spaces), traditionally called two for his heels.

The non-dealer begins the play by laying a card from his or her hand face-up on the table, announcing its value. The dealer does the same (each player discards to his or her own pile). Play continues in the same way, by alternate exposures of the cards, each player announcing the new total count. The total may not be carried past 31. If a player adds a card that brings the total exactly to 31, he or she pegs two. If a player is unable to play another card with - out exceeding 31, he or she says “Go,” and the second player must play as many cards as possible up to but not more than 31. The player who plays the last card under 31 scores a point. The discard process begins again from zero.

After the hands have been emptied, the totals of any matches in the discards (including the starter card) are counted and added to each player’s score. The non-dealer scores first. The dealer then scores and also scores the crib. Any jack of the same suit as the starter card scores one point (for nobs).

One game option is called Muggins, which means that if your opponent forgets to claim any points, you’re allowed to yell “Muggins!” and claim the points for yourself. (The knowledge of who or what a Muggins is has long been lost to us. The word is also used in a form of Dominoes, though with a different meaning.)

These are the most usual point scores:

In PlayPoints
Total of 152
Three of a kind6
Four of a kind12
Run of three or more1 per card
Turned-up jack2
Total of 312

In HandPoints
Total of 152
Three of a kind6
Four of a kind12
Run of three or more1 per card
Flush (four cards)4
Flush (five cards)5
Double Run of Three*8
Double Run of Four*10
Triple Run*15
Quadruple Run*16

*A Run is a sequence of cards such as 6-5-4. A Double Run of Three means one duplication in a sequence of four: 6-6-5-4. A Double Run of Four is one duplication in five cards: 7-6-6-5-4. A Triple Run is one triplication in a sequence of five: 8-7-6-6-6. A Quadruple Run is two duplications in a sequence of five: 8-8-7-7-6.


If you’re just beginning at Cribbage and you’re not sure what to discard, here’s a prescription for improving your play—focus first on building your hand. Begin by looking for combinations of 15. 5s are especially prized because a third of the deck is made up of cards with a value of ten (10s and face cards), making lots of easy 15s. Any sequential cards are good (runs are easy to get and score relatively well). Combinations of 7 and 8 are very powerful, because in addition to scoring potential on runs, they also add up to 15. Pairs score easy points and are often (not always) worth keeping.

After considering the hand you’d like to keep, turn your attention to the crib. If it’s your crib (i.e., you dealt), see if you have two good cards that can’t be easily joined to the rest of your hand. If you do, discard them.

If it’s your opponent’s crib, be cautious about giving away cards that could be easily turned into big points. Avoid giving any 5s or any of the card combinations already mentioned (15s, sequences, and pairs).

Advanced Strategies

Since the highest points are obtained when scoring the hands, it is easy to think that pegging one or two points at a time during play is small potatoes. However, all other things being equal, a good pegger will usually win at Cribbage. It’s a case of the tortoise and the hare—slogging it out for the little points really adds up.